Organ donation scheme is courageous

By Rabbi Danny Rich, November 8, 2012
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The principle of organ donation is barely controversial in the Jewish community. Authorities, from the most traditional to the most liberal, proceed from three basic premises.

The first, pikuach nefesh, or the saving of life, overrides virtually everything; the second, the concept of partnership (shotfot), recognises that God and human beings are partners in the natural world and people may intervene in the processes of nature.

Allied to these two is the idea given in the name of the third century Babylonian teacher, Samuel, that “when it comes to saving of human life we do not go by the majority” — understood by some to mean that in such cases, we are not governed by the rules of probability.

Having said that, there are issues on which authorities differ, including how to determine death and the question of consent.

In ideal circumstances, every person who dies, whether young or old, suddenly or as expected, would have discussed the possibility of organ donation and given clear instructions.

It remains the case that large numbers of people have not made their wishes known, which puts both medical practitioners and the bereaved into an impossible situation where they must make an immediate decision in the moment of crisis resulting in many potential life-saving organs not being used.

Estimates vary but it is thought that between 500 and 1,000 die in the UK each year for lack of a suitable organ.

The Welsh government has made a courageous decision to move to a scheme where consent is presumed.

Last updated: 3:45pm, November 8 2012